Yesterday Anita and I made our way up the Historic Downtown Mall, sampling a new salad place and trying on a few things. A shoe store may have been involved. And we landed at the City Council Chamber behind three giant statues of Virginia Presidents to listen to two academics discuss their research and books on “Navigating International Conflicts: Who Helps the Refugees?”
Christine Mahoney spoke first. She told us that refugees live in a kind of limbo, “They are living on the edge of existence, failure is the norm.” She talked about the balance of help any International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) can offer at any one time; for instance, when Doctors Without Borders was fighting Ebola in Zaire, it was not able to provide its baseline essential healthcare to the rest of that country. Guns and butter, the one thing I remember from Econ 101. Maternal deaths went up, malnutrition skyrocketed. But there are natural disasters, like disease and earthquakes, and then there are those that are man-made.
Like corruption and war. Mahoney spoke of all the obstacles in her book, “Failure and Hope, Fighting for the Rights of the Forcibly Displaced.” Advocacy for refugees is not prioritized in a country when their citizens as a whole are living below poverty levels. And only in Iraq have refugees been allowed to work; Kurds from Syria have been assimilated into the Kurdish communities of Northern Iraq. This is unusual since all other refugees are not allowed to work in their host countries.
She also pointed out that people who leave their country are the “lucky” ones, since they usually have the resources to cross borders. Those refugees who have the least – the sickest, the elderly, the poorest of the poor – are truly suffering in displacement camps amidst their own people. When an audience member asked what we can do, Mahoney pointed out the two best ways to advocate for the displaced are with votes and money. There are limitations to “Political Leverage” however, because most governments do not have the will to change a system and allow refugees to work or travel freely.
But we can use “Economic Leverage” to help level the playing field. We can bypass big banks with Bitcoin for instance. We can empower hopeless people through investment funds with micro-finance, using impact investors for profit. We can help a woman start a bakery, all that woman needs is a cell phone to get started. When life-saving food and medicine is the priority for humanitarian organizations, using open source financing to fund entrepreneurial projects is a ray of light for this marginalized population.
The success of small loans to the displaced has been evident in KIVA https://www.kiva.org Anita told me she has given to KIVA and plans to get her grandson involved this year. Then we talked about the Passover Seder, what should she bring?
It’s my turn, my first Seder in 38 years of marriage. The Jews were once slaves in Egypt and had to leave their home. My Irish ancestors left an island that could no longer sustain them. All Americans, except Native Americans, were refugees at one time or another. “In 2015 there were 60 Million people displaced by violent global conflict, the highest since WWII.”
And the leader of the free world is closing our borders, and blaming Democrats for not passing the GOP healthcare bill. At least Bob and I did our part to pester our Representative Tom Garrett, now we need to start thinking about the next step of Political Leverage in the spy mystery that has engulfed Washington, DC . And btw, did you know Hemingway was a Russian spy?!…Oh Donnie Boy, loyalty is a dish served warm, like Borscht.